We notice it most clearly in brainstorming, but it can happen in any meeting. Some people dominate the conversation (I'll call them Outspoken), while others seem unable to get a chance to speak (I'll call them Softspoken). When the Softspoken do get a chance to speak, an Outspoken often interrupts, preventing the Softspoken from finishing a thought. Eventually, the Softspoken give up trying, if they don't actually leave the room. Or, in virtual meetings, they sign off or begin indulging in their favorite digital pastimes.
Understanding the experiences of all involved helps us allocate airtime more fairly. Let's begin by exploring the inner experience of the Outspoken.
- Excited, capable, and articulate
- Some of the Outspoken are excited and passionate about the discussion. If they're also knowledgeable and articulate, they might feel an overwhelming desire to contribute. They're so fully involved that they're unaware that they're taking more than their fair share of the airtime.
- Seeking attention
- To gain attention, some of the Outspoken exploit their advantages. Motivations differ. Some want to make a case for a particular mission that they hope the group will adopt. Some hope to enhance their own political stature, possibly to gain promotion or influence. Others seek to dominate solely for the thrill of domination.
- Believing no one has anything to say
- When a pause in the conversation occurs, or even before a pause develops, the Outspoken are more likely to believe that no one has anything to say. They conclude that it's permissible to contribute whatever might be in their minds.
- Rude or careless of the rights of others
- Some of the Outspoken recognize that their own behavior is rude, but they're either careless of the rights of others, or they feel that the discussion is so important and urgent that civility and politeness must be temporarily suspended.
- Strategically assertive
- Someone When someone repeatedly dominates
meetings, understanding the
experiences of all involved helps
us allocate airtime more fairlywho wants to limit opportunities for others to express points of view contrary to their own might steer the conversation in what they regard as a safe direction. They speak at length, and interrupt anyone who might express a contrary view. What might seem to be simple rudeness can actually be strategic.
- Politically powerful
- When the Outspoken are politically powerful, some consider them to be demonstrating their power. They don't actually have a point to make, other than that they're in charge. Perhaps. Also possible: the Outspoken feel threatened, weak, and small, and they dominate the meeting to validate their own images of themselves.
- Composite Outspoken
- The Outspoken might be two or three (or more) individuals, allied with a single purpose. They might plan in advance to express their point of view in a way that deprives others of airtime. But because the Outspoken are multiple people, they don't seem to be dominating the meeting.
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Games for Meetings: IV
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- Overtalking: III
- Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer
short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others,
what can you do about it?
- Contributions, Open and Closed
- We can classify contributions to discussions according to the likelihood that they stimulate new thought.
The more open they are, the more they stimulate new thought. How can we encourage open contributions?
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
three examples of this pattern.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
- And on April 3: Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.